School campus to receive new School Resource Officer to serve throughout school year; new entry foyer, daily sessions to address each student's education path.

Ralls County R-II School District is prepared to welcome a new School Resource Officer and roll out changes to further bolster safety and boost each student's academic success during the 2018 to 2019 school year.

Ralls County R-II Superintendent Dr. Tara Lewis said a variety of projects have been progressing simultaneously as the first day of school approaches, including hiring full-time School Resource Officer (SRO) and Ralls County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Walotka. Lewis said the agreement between the school district and the law enforcement agency followed two years of discussion — Walotka's new role coincides with a new entry and foyer at the junior high school for all visits during the school day from 8:15 to 3:15 p.m. And the school day itself has expanded, offering a Response to Intervention time period for staff and faculty to more directly address the students' varying needs at each grade level.

By removing two minutes from each school hour and starting school ten minutes earlier, every teacher and student in the district can participate in daily Response to Intervention activities. Lewis said each student's assessment scores and other data will help determine if they will join groups with specific focus areas — assisting with specific needs, strengthening organization skills or providing enrichment like college-preparatory tasks.

“We ended up with a 20-minute block of time that will be used to meet everybody's individual needs,” she said. “The principals have done a phenomenal job, along with teachers, in collecting data on all of our students.”

She said the data includes disciplinary referrals, reading and math performance and late assignments. Students join groups based on these results, and they can also move from one group to another based on how they're performing through regular assessments.

With academic performance receiving a more focused approach for the school year, district-wide safety will witness changes as well.

School board members, administrators, faculty and staff members have been regularly discussing a proactive approach to safety for the entire school campus. Lewis said Walotka will complete a weeklong SRO training. Lewis said she looks forward to the added security and new channel of communication for students and faculty that Walotka will provide.

“We're very pleased for our school size to be able to have a full-time SRO at our district,” she said. “And now that we're all consolidated right here in one campus, that's somebody who can be back and forth — just adding an extra layer.”

The new entrance and foyer location will provide multiple benefits, with visitors being able to access the office to sign in and out after entering the exterior door. Visitors can be buzzed into the school if necessary, and officials can more easily supervise them. Normal before-school and after-school bus pick up and drip off and vehicle locations still apply. For all visitors who come to the school district during the school day, they will be greeted by angled parking spots, a new sidewalk and prominent letters spelling out Mark Twain Junior High School over the entryway.

Lewis said the school year starts a bit later than some neighboring school districts — Wednesday, Aug. 22 — to allow families to participate in State Fair activities. Meet the Teacher Night will take place on earlier this year, based on comments requesting more time after receiving school supply lists and helping children who were too excited to sleep last year as they thought about their upcoming first day of school. For the 2018-2019 school year, Meet the Teacher Night will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, and will coincide with a community-sponsored Back to School Fair.

All the classrooms are cleaned, crews are applying a fresh coat of wax down each hallway, and recent efforts netted a new exterior paint and interior paint for the Mark Twain Senior High School gymnasium and the Mark Twain Junior High gymnasium, respectively. Lewis said she feels enthusiastic on the eve of a new school year.

“I always get excited about the new school year, and meeting new families and seeing our returning students come back,” she said. “Everybody's always excited in August for a new school year to start.”

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